“I speak for the trees”, says the Lorax.
Lou Dobbs doesn’t want to listen. A new blockbuster movie – Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax – is ramping up marketing. Lou is not happy because the eco-friendly message the Lorax brings is indoctrinating our children. He actually puts it in 1%er terms (congratulations Occupy Wall Street for coining a term that your opponents now use as shorthand) – it supposedly “plainly demonizes the 1%”. Lou is plainly assuming the connection between polluter/tree choppers and 1% for his viewing audience. He is upset that “Obama’s friends in Hollywood” are pushing an environmental agenda. In a way, I will agree with Lou – this movie will most definitely impact children’s opinions.
I haven’t seen the movie and read the book quite a while ago, but the basic message is that the short term gain of cutting trees down in rapid fashion outweighs the long term benefits of having them around. The story grows as the appetite of industrialization grows to not just take the trees, but to cut into all the areas of life that actual corporate domination cut into our life.
I have two kids that are growing like weeds. Occasionally, someone who hasn’t seen them for a while will exclaim, “look at how much he’s grown!” and marvel at the sight of my boy. While I am aware he has grown, I’ve seen him daily and the change never seemed that drastic to take note. That is how we are with our real lives – we don’t notice incremental changes. We accept small compromises on a near daily basis and it is hard to feel inspired, shocked, or motivated to fight for or against those compromises. We’ll say, “ok, dump your toxic wastes in this yucky area where no one important lives”, or, “ok, drill for oil offshore but waaay out there where we can’t see it”, or “we’ll let you pollute but you have to promise to plant some things when you’re done”. Then one day a shock happens – like an oil
leak gusher in the ocean floor that takes 5 months to stave off and we wonder, ” how did we let this happen?”
Fiction helps us to understand. Fiction condenses time and events into a good story, but is often a macrocosm, a metaphor for what feels much more mundane in real time. Lou Dobbs is right in that well done stories can mold our opinions and indoctrinate our children; he knows that Dr. Seuss + slick animation + major moviehouse distribution = a major impact on American culture. Americans have proven their love for all of these things and will undoubtedly flock to the movie and buy the merchandise. This is predictable because so many other movies have gone before it with the same pattern.
Messages in movies and books count. When our kids see Transformers, they see robots, cars, industrialization, weaponry, and war glorified. There is no shortage of glorified and romanticized materialism, warriors, sexism, and hyper-consumerism in our kids culture. Pre-school age kids can identify a plethora of brands, many not even relating to anything child friendly. We put our kids in front of screens a lot – every second of programmed viewing has been evaluated and assessed to be sure it does try to influence the viewer. Not every second has a political agenda, probably most just have a profit agenda and considerations for mental health, indoctrination, and ethics are non-existent.
This isn’t a guilt trip, screen time is a reality for us in this American world today, it’s just that Lou’s outrage is very pointed at potentially successful kids films with agendas he doesn’t care for. He starts his commentary by saying, “Now an unmentionable, a story you won’t hear in the liberal national media…” – as if liberal influences are the only messages influencing children. The fact is that our media works on a capitalist model which inherently encourages the sort of wild west, amoral, business centric philosophy that is one of the planks of being Republican.
Media literacy – developing an awareness around the “tricks” of the media and message manipulation – is very important for all of us, but especially for our kids that are growing up in a media saturated world. Just as we don’t let any stranger with candy approach our kids, we need to be wary of who we invite into our living rooms and what we see in the theatres. Lou has every right to dislike a movie and discourage others from going, I do that all the time with our family’s media choices. Where he misses the mark is pretending as if messaging is a brand new thing that “Hollywood liberals” invented. For more information on how you and your kids can get more media literate, check out the Center for a Commercial Free Childhood here, or Media Education Films here, or the Action Coalition for Media Education here. They are all non-profit and non partisan. Most times in this life, input=output. Be outraged if you want, but be aware of the messages being put out – not just to your children, but to you too. Be discriminate, hold a high standard, and give feedback to the media providers to influence their choices of programming.
I happen to like the Lorax’s message, maybe we’ll have a family outing to the theater and stop off to play in the woods on the way home.